20 January 2021

One year on, Canberra is still recovering from 15 minutes of hail hell

| Michael Weaver
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Damage to glasshouses at the ANU Research Centre of Biology

Damage to the ANU Research School of Biology greenhouses is still being repaired a year on from the 20 January hailstorm. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The damage still lingers at the ANU Research School of Biology greenhouses where up to 5000 panes of glass were shattered by a severe hailstorm that hit one year ago on 20 January 2020.

It was the hailstorm that preceded the devastating Orroral Valley fire that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic. Insurance companies are still mopping up claims that numbered almost 200,000.

The hailstorm cut a swathe through the centre of Canberra. Suburbs like Kingston and Manuka and the ANU were under assault from large hailstones between golf ball and tennis ball size.

The lawns of Parliament House were turned snow-white with hail, as were sports ovals at the ANU. Parts of Jerrabomberra, New Acton and Belconnen were also heavily impacted. Large numbers of injured birds, bats and other wildlife were taken to vets and animal welfare shelters.

The Kingston Glassworks building and the Bus Depot Markets were severely damaged, and while the Bus Depot Markets remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also still rebuilding after the storm, with scaffolding around the site.

For all the damage, the storm was all over in 15 minutes.

Hail damage at New Acton

Hail damage at New Acton on January 20. Photo: Region Media.

A spokesperson from the ANU told Region Media more than 80 per cent of the ANU Acton campus was affected, including the Research School of Biology greenhouses and University House.

The spokesperson said repair work is continuing and remains in the hands of insurers.

“With such extensive damage and the disruptions of COVID-19, the plan for recovery is rolling out progressively while we retain a fully operational campus.

“Remediation work is ongoing and the University is actively working with insurers and suppliers to ensure disruption is reduced as much as possible,” the spokesperson said.

At the nearby CSIRO Agriculture and Food Business research precinct, part of the recovery plan involves considering whether a different non-shatter material such as polycarbonate sheeting could be used in the glasshouses.

It is the second time in about 13 years the Black Mountain precinct has been devastated by a hailstorm. A 2006 event required 2500 panes of new glass. In 2020, twice as many were shattered.

A hail-covered oval at ANU

A hail-covered oval at ANU after the storm on 20 January 2020. Photo: ANU.

The Insurance Council of Australia has said almost 131,000 claims were made for damage following the hailstorm, half for damage to cars.

More than 7000 ACT vehicles were not insured and many still show the dents from the impact. ACT Government figures reveal more than 44,500 ACT-registered vehicles were damaged during the storm.

A further 39,296 claims were made for residential buildings and more than 10,500 for contents insurance.

Head of Risk and Operations at the Insurance Council of Australia Karl Sullivan said combined losses from storms in the ACT, Victoria and NSW were estimated at $320 million.

The ACT State Emergency Service also responded to more than 2000 requests for help in the wake of the storm.

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HiddenDragon7:35 pm 20 Jan 21

The report aired on ABC Canberra news tonight about the devastating impact of the hailstorm on important crop resilience research was very sad.

Disappointing that the ANU hasn’t been able to get things moving again from within its own resources, rather than (as reported by the ABC) waiting on an insurance settlement. A federal government with a stated ambition of increasing the size of the primary industry sector to $100bn. could also help with the restoration of research which will contribute to that ambitious goal.

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